His milk chocolate, heavy lidded eyes stare at me from the
front of the magazine.
His cheeks display charcoal tattoos, a criss cross
design, tiny Xs on top, stopping where his nostrils flare.
His straight hair barely touches his shoulders.
not the black I expected, but the color of mahogany.
His eyebrows grow thin and wide,
no visible eyelashes.
His skin, color of morning coffee with two teaspoons of milk,
looks clear, smooth.
His full lips only slightly darker than his skin
do not smile.
He, a Kayapo Indian, continues staring.
He lives in Kayapo Territory, Brazil, land the size of
Great Britain and Ireland.
He plans to save it from the rest of us.
He plans to save us from our own worst selves.
The Kayapo and other indigenous Amerindians have lived in the rainforest for millennia. They and most environmentalists view their rainforest as a priceless haven for biodiversity. Their Amazon remains a major defense in the fight against global warming and habitat destruction. Fifteen per cent of greenhouse emissions, more than all the trucks, cars, buses, and planes combined, come from deforestation. Although Brazil has slowed the deforestation rate by 70 per cent in the last nine years, last year saw a reversal with an sudden increase of 30 per cent. Brazil also began construction of a network of canals, dams, and a huge hydroelectric project on the Xingu River in the middle of Kayapo territory. The Kayapo and other Amerindians defeated a larger project in the 1990s. They intend to defeat this one.
The chief of the Kayapo, Megaron, knows what is at stake, not only for his tribe, but also for the rest of us, long term survival. One National Geographic article noted, “It is one of the richest ironies of the Amazon that the supposedly civilized outsiders who spent five centuries evangelizing, exploiting, and exterminating aboriginal people are now turning to them to save ecosystems recognized as critical to the health of the planet–to defend essential tracts of land from the outside world’s insatiable appetite.”
Kayapo success can be attributed to their ability to embrace some of the best of the modern world while retaining a strong sense of identity, culture, and traditions, all of which come from the forest. As Megaron notes, “Before the white man, we were always fighting other tribes. Not anymore. We stopped hitting each other over the head and united against a bigger threat.” For our own long term health and success, we can support them and hope they succeed.